This morning, when the Amazon-owned digital comics retailer Comixology announced their new Unlimited plan, the comics and tech media were rapturous. "Say what you will about their effect on the print industry, digital comics have made buying [independent comics] easier," Birth.Movies.Death's Siddhant Adlakha wrote, "especially outside North America. What’s more, it’s about to get a whole lot easier with this $5.99 a month subscription service, which includes, of course, a 30-day trial." Bloggers, many of whom were likely working just from the press release, were quick to label it a "Netflix for comics.”
And on first blush, it’s easy to understand why they’d say that. The new Comixology Unlimited plan includes most of the major comics publishers minus the big two of Marvel and DC. (Marvel owns and operates its own $9.99-a-month Unlimited service.) According to Heidi MacDonald at The Beat, who says Comixology “just hit a slam dunk” with Unlimited, the service includes publishers like “Image, Dark HorseIDW Publishing, BOOM!, Dynamite, Kodansha, Oni, Valiant Entertainment, Archie , Fantagraphics, Humanoids, Action Lab Entertainment, Aspen, Zenescope and more.”
But there are a few problems with the Unlimited plan. Jude Terror at The Outhousers notes that…
…most of the comics available on the service are the first one or two trades of series, meaning they serve more as an advertisement to purchase further issues than a truly "unlimited" reading experience. For instance, you can read the first two Walking Dead and Chew trades, or the first six issues of Saga… And to access the service, you'll need to merge your comiXology account with your Amazon account, because Amazon would really like to store all the data they're collecting on you in one place.
Especially interesting is the fact that it’s looking like a lot of creators weren’t told about Comixology Unlimited in advance. And many of them are not happy about it:
And now with Comixology Unlimited I suddenly understand how all those musicians feel— Cameron Stewart (@cameronMstewart) May 24, 2016
@PiaGuerra wow. First I've heard of this. :/— Kurtis Wiebe (@kurtisjwiebe) May 24, 2016
Did any creators hear about Comixology Unlimited before it was announced?— Jamie McKelvie (@McKelvie) May 24, 2016
Other factors, including how much creators are going to be compensated for their books’ involvement in Unlimited, aren’t public yet. It’s especially surprising to see Image Comics, which prides itself on the fact that every single one of their titles are creator-owned, seemingly signing on to this plan without telling creators first.
It’s unclear if Image told any of their creators, but Jamie McKelvie, whose tweet is quoted above, is the artist of The Wicked + The Divine, which is one of the most popular Image Comics right now. If he wasn’t told, it’s clear that communication between Image and their creators was lax. In a threaded Twitter conversation with McKelvie, cartoonist and self-publisher Spike Trotman said that she "was emailed weeks ago and asked to participate in the launch," and that she "had to sign a contract and NDA and everything!" McKelvie confirmed that she was a publisher and concluded that Comixology "[t]alked to publishers, but not creators," to which Trotman replied, "I hope that's not the case!"
At least partly, it does seem to be the case. In an interview with Comic Book Resources, Comixology co-founder and CEO David Steinberger says that he doesn't "get between our publishers and their creators," meaning that Amazon/Comixology didn't contact any creators on their own. Steinberger also refused to comment about potential royalties.
I have emails out to several publishers and creators. We’ll have more on this story as it develops.
UPDATE 12:17 PM: I've just published Fantagraphics Associate Publisher Eric Reynolds' response to my questions about creator involvement in Comixology Unlimited.